Circumcision in Art - the far side

Here we look at some of the quirkier depictions of circumcision in art. Circumcised Cupid? - sure. Circumcised Adam .....



Byam Shaw, Love and the Respectable Citizen John Byam Shaw1872-1919

Byam Shaw was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and had a tragically short life, dying in the 'Spanish Flu' epidemic that followed WW1. His water-colour 'When Love Came into the House of the Respectable Citizen', painted in 1916, shows the impact of a confirmed bachelor falling head over heels in in love, represented by Cupid suddenly bursting in through the window and scattering the furniture.

Let's look a bit closer. Viewing the image full size it is clear that Cupid is circumcised. This is probably the only image of a circumcised Cupid in the history of art. This was the middle of WW1 and Byam Shaw was on war duties, not a full-time artist. He drew a lot of patriotic cartoons for the papers and this seems to have been a bit of gentle fun aimed at a friend. So what do we make of Cupid? The model was almost certainly Byam Shaw's son Glen, then aged 11. Glen went on to be a very successful actor and subsequently director. But Cupid's head is not his - it is clearly the head of a girl, presumably the man's paramour. A lovely, whimsical painting and a unique portrayal of Cupid. First shown in our News section in 2018.

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Jean Orval (Jean Louis Eugene Orval) 1911 - 1987

Jean Orval was a Dutch stained glass artist who emigrated to Australia after World War 2.

He worked in commercial art, and as a teacher, while establishing his stained glass practise which ultimately led to many church commissions in Victoria. In private commissions he often showed infant boys as circumcised, but not in any of his church 'Madonna and Child' windows.

Adam and Eve, a private commission, is remarkable for showing Adam as circumcised. This would be centuries before God's covenant of circumcision with Abraham. It turns out that there was a school of thought in Jewish theology which believed that Adam had to be perfect, and therefore was born circumcised, but here I suspect that Orval has just accurately portrayed his model.

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Adam and Eve
Ron Mueck1958-

Ron Mueck was born in Australia to German parents, and currently lives in the UK. His family had a strong tradition of making puppets and models for stage and film and eventually Ron decided to turn this into an art practice.

His work is typically described as 'hyper-realistic' - going beyong realism - and however accurate his figures are they are never life size. Some are smaller, others much larger - this one is half life size.

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Charles Ray (born 1953, USA)

Ray also features in our main art page, but here he enters the 'uncanny valley' with this rather disturbing sculpture ‘Family Romance’ - a typical family except that they are all the same height! Father and son are both nicely circumcised.
Courtesy MOMA

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Sculpture
Frank Benson (born 1976, USA)

Benson's sculpture 'Juliana' (2014-2015) caused a sensation when exhibitied at New York's New Museum in 2015. It is a life-size image of New York artist, model, DJ and LGBTI icon Juliana Huxtable, and was accompanied by a collection of Huxtable's own works.

The sculpture was created as a 3D model in a computer, and the initial physical version was produced on a 3D printer and then painted. Subsequently a small run of casts was made in bronze.

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Juliana was born intersex, and the decision was made to raise her as a boy, Julian. As you can see, her penis was circumcised. But with puberty it was clear that her body was female, and after futile attempts to bind her chest she came out as female. This led to an estrangement from her very conservative mother, with whom she was happily reconciled at the New Museum exhibition.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to DB, JM, Sothebys Australia, the New Museum and MOMA for suggestions and information.

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